Virtual Teams For Dummies Cheat Sheet
Highly productive and successful virtual teams don’t happen by accident. When leading a virtual team, all team leaders should use certain key tactics set up their virtual team to be focused, connected, and empowered. Regardless of where your virtual team members are located, you can encourage a thriving virtual team culture by evaluating your virtual leadership skills to discover opportunities to improve, and by using the following tips to set clear expectations, delegate effectively, develop cultural intelligence, and use collaboratively technology appropriately.
Setting Clear Team Expectations with Virtual Team Members
These tips can set standards for team excellence and provide clarity for your virtual team members, helping you get the absolute best results.
- Start with a vision of what the best possible outcome looks like for your virtual team. Focus on not just what needs to get done, but how team members will work together to accomplish results and the impact of the results you’re looking for. Can you share a story about it? Is there an analogy that works well to paint a picture of your vision?
- Decide on how you’ll define performance excellence. Answer the question, “What would success look like?” If you expect high levels of teamwork and collaboration, then describe what those expectations mean to you. Don’t assume your team members already know.
- Keep your focus on the desired outcomes, not on describing each and every step to follow. Your goal is to guide, not control. Letting teams and individuals find their own route toward productive outcomes encourages them to use their strengths to their fullest potential. If you try to micromanage on a virtual team, you will fail.
- Tie the company’s goals to your team or department and to each role. People want to know that their role on your team, whether large or small, makes a difference and supports moving the team and the company forward.
- Put expectations in writing. Having them in writing provides you with simple documentation so you can refer back to them if there is ever confusion. The document is also a great tool to reset, regroup, and remind team members when things veer off track or when the team members begin to show signs of disengagement.
- Stay on the sideline. You may be tempted to jump in and save the day when employees are stuck, struggling and not meeting expectations. But if you do, no one learns a thing and your virtual employees will quickly feel disempowered. Always providing the solution can also set up a situation where your team takes a wait-and-see approach instead of taking action. In a virtual environment saving the day every time doesn’t work long term.
- Give feedback often. Letting team members know whether or not they’re meeting your expectations is always too late to do so during the annual performance review. Rather, schedule informal review time regularly with your virtual team members (weekly, monthly, or quarterly for larger teams) and provide helpful feedback. When you provide consistent feedback throughout the year, your team members see you as a coach who is supportive and interested in helping the team succeed.
- Ask team members for feedback on how they think they’re doing and how they think you’re doing. The more two-way communication your team has the greater the clarity around the expectations.
- Give positive reinforcement. Mention the things you like and you’ll get more of it. Recognize the behavior and performance that you want to see continue. Be specific, highlight the impact, and deliver it as close to the positive event as possible.
- Look in the mirror first. When team members don’t perform as you think they should, ask yourself if you’ve done a great job setting clear expectations and decide what you could have done differently. Then collaborate with your team members to come up with solutions, rather than pointing fingers and laying blame.
Tips to Practice Cultural Intelligence When Leading a Virtual Team
Practicing mindfulness and sensitivity when working on a multicultural virtual team allows you to recognize cultural nuances, remain flexible in the moment, and generate an overall atmosphere of willingness to understand other’s values, beliefs, and needs. Additionally, developing your cultural intelligence (CQ) offers incredible personal and professional benefits that may include
- Performance improvement: Culturally diverse teams that focus on discovering how to work together effectively and practice CQ consistently outperform homogenous teams.
- Salary increases: When team members have high levels of CQ, they’re more valuable on a global team and have the potential to impact their career financially.
- Global opportunities: Global companies are always looking for those standout team members who may be a good fit to work on different teams, launch new business lines in another country, or lead their next global team. CQ gives you a competitive advantage.
- Accomplishment of company goals: Culturally diverse teams that have team members with high levels of CQ consistently accomplish global goals.
- Improved work satisfaction: Being a member of a culturally diverse virtual team is more innovative, interesting, and dynamic and creates learning opportunities that involve people and cultures that can be extremely satisfying.
- Expansion of your worldview: By focusing on CQ, you can expand your viewpoints, perspectives, and beliefs about cultures and people from around the world.
- Deeper appreciation for diversity: Developing your CQ improves your communication skills, relationship-building skills, and ability to manage conflict in a diverse team culture. It helps you appreciate, enjoy, and love the face that you work on a diverse team.
Delegating and Then Letting Go on a Virtual Team
Delegation is important for any leader managing a team but vital for a virtual team leader who has to trust her team members to get the job done without much oversight. Use the following strategies to delegate to your team members so they can accomplish more on your virtual team:
- Analyze your tasks and decide what to delegate and what only you can do. Outline the tasks that you currently handle and decide which ones can’t be delegated. Examples may include hiring and firing decisions, promotions, pay raises, goal setting, feedback, purchasing approvals, and so on. Everything else is something you can let go.
- Communicate a clear vision of the desired end result. After you identify what to delegate, define what the goal looks like and how you’ll know when it’s been achieved.
- Select the right people for the job. Analyze the skill and willingness of your team to determine who to delegate to. You may find that some people will need more direction up front than others, but with your coaching they may improve their ability to carry out future delegated tasks unassisted.
- Delegate the whole enchilada. Don’t just hand out pieces of a project. People get pleasure from seeing a task to completion, and the final result will likely end up being of consistent quality if one person completes it.
- Explain why the task is important and the results expected including deadlines, progress reports, resources to use, and so on. Team members need to understand the why behind any delegated task to provide it context, meaning, and importance. This is also the time to discuss the end goal and any important steps or tools they need to use to get there.
- Check for clarity and understanding. Ask team members to summarize the task responsibility in their own words. This will help you to ensure they know what to do.
- Be available during agreed-upon times to provide feedback and assess progress. Provide support and coaching as needed.
- Hold people accountable to the agreed-upon results. Check in regularly to see how they are doing with the delegated task and if they are meeting their goals.
- Give recognition for a job well done so that your team feels confident being delegated to in the future. Do this in a team meeting so other team members hear it. Giving recognition builds confidence and event excitement for future delegated tasks.
- Trust in the process you have established. Don’t be afraid of mistakes; they’re learning opportunities for the future.
Discovering how to delegate effectively takes practice. Delegating will help your virtual team to build trust, deepen commitment levels, and encourage your employees to try something new.
Measuring How Sharp Your Virtual Leadership Skills Are
The caliber of leadership on any virtual team plays a critical role in the levels of success and innovation that can be achieved. Review this checklist to determine whether or not your virtual leadership skills are honed to a keen edge or need some improvements.
- You’re more comfortable delegating tasks and providing coaching and support to your team than doing things yourself.
- You engage your virtual team in collaboratively creating a vision of success and agreeing on what behaviors will positively influence results.
- You have clear expectations on how the team will use technology to stay connected.
- Before committing to a team decision, you encourage the team to discuss if it’s in alignment with your purpose, values, and goals. Together you decide to say no to requests that aren’t aligned.
- Your team trusts you and your effectiveness as a leader.
- You walk my talk when demonstrating your team values and staying connected.
- You have a pulse on the energy of the team and where conflict or obstacles may exist.
- You address conflict openly and quickly with the team, taking great care to respect different viewpoints and encourage solution-focused thinking.
- You view problems as opportunities to excel and create a learning culture on your team. You share mistakes and lessons learned frequently.
- The team meetings have an agenda, stay on time, and give everyone the opportunity to contribute.
- You seek out opportunities for education and skills enhancement for the team with a focus on continually staying on top of best practices and growing the team’s abilities.
- Everything that happens on the team whether positive or negative is a reflection of your leadership. If things need to change, you need to change first.
- You quickly address any performance issues and have virtual face-to-face meetings with team members who aren’t meeting expectations.
- You consistently recognize team members for their accomplishments and encourage others to speak up when another team member has made a difference for them.
- You’re open to new suggestions and ideas and frequently ask for feedback on your performance.
- You don’t accept credit for successes but rather attribute them freely to your team.
- You regularly align team member work tasks to the vision and values that are important to the team.
If you checked off ten or more statements, then you’re on the right track. Keep up the good work!
10 Signs You’re Not Using Your Collaborative Technology Effectively
You did extensive research. You weighed the pros and cons. You interviewed current users at other companies. You considered your budget and current IT infrastructure. You vetted all the options and a completed your due diligence. Then you finally decided on the best collaborative technology tool for your virtual team. So why aren’t you realizing the promised efficiency, increased productivity, faster client response time, and streamlined project management that virtual teams have experienced?
Here are ten important signs that indicate your team isn’t using your collaboration technology effectively:
- Team members aren’t in contact with each other. If you can’t remember the last time you connected with your team members, your team is constantly too busy or distracted, and daily or weekly team meetings continue to fall off the calendar. If so, you have a problem — and aren’t utilizing your collaborative technology effectively. Isolation and disengagement are the death knells for virtual teams, but the good news is that you have the solution at your fingertips.
The best collaboration tools include project management tracking, file sharing, videoconferencing, and instant messaging. Time to regroup and recommit your team to using the programs you have in place. Team members will want to be using these tools to connect with each other every day.
- Team leaders don’t have a pulse on the project. If you expect your team members to spend the first 15 minutes of every meeting updating you on the status of their projects, chances are you’re not using collaborative technology. Being clear about exactly where a project stands, the next steps to be completed, who is responsible for completing them, and by when can all be kept up-to-date using technology.
Providing verbal updates on project status in every virtual team meeting is a waste of time and energy. Your meetings should be spent connecting on solutions, removing roadblocks, and celebrating success — not getting everyone up to speed on where projects stand. Consider getting retrained on how to access, ask questions, and assess updates on projects and get everyone figuratively, and digitally, on the same page.
- Team members haven’t received formal training on technology. Unless you wrote the code for the software, then you can benefit from formal training on virtual technology and how to use it. Any collaborative technology worth your time has robust training tools that accompany it. Although most are designed to be user friendly, you and your team should still complete the training and then decide the best way to use the many different features and functionality.
Use your team members who may be skilled at a particular technology as the subject matter expert who trains the rest of the team. Planning virtual labs where the team works out any kinks on using the technology can be fun and a way to connect. As soon as everyone understands the capabilities of your technology and what’s possible, be sure to discuss and decide collaboratively the most effective way to use it. Check in periodically to see if more training or a refresher course is needed.
- Virtual teams haven’t assessed technology effectiveness. Perhaps you haven’t put a lot of time, money, and energy into researching what collaborative technology to use. Part of that due diligence is to create measurements of effectiveness for each function on your team, deliverables, and goals. Those measurements need to tell you if you’re meeting your service level agreements, your customer support ratings have changed, or your response time has improved — whatever goals your team determines. If it feels like you and your team members are just scratching the surface of the potential of your collaboration, then you probably are.
- Adoption of technology isn’t widespread. Rogue software being used by various team members can indicate several things: the chosen program wasn’t effective at doing what was promised, people aren’t trained properly in using it, or people are unwilling to give up the program or method they were using.
If you start to notice team members using workaround solutions, for example texting a question to a team member instead of using the chat or direct messaging function, then you need to circle up and refocus efforts to abide by your communication strategy for your team.
- The team doesn’t use a consistent communication strategy. This requirement is basic for virtual teams. To skip it is to do so at your own peril. All virtual teams must have a communication strategy, and that strategy must include the rules for which technology to use for each purpose. For example, your team decides to use daily video huddles to provide quick status updates, use chat or instant message for urgent, time-sensitive issues, assign and schedule tasks in your project management tool, and so on. A lack of a communication strategy is a leadership failure, and one that you should address immediately.
- Virtual meetings are boring. Take an honest look at your virtual meetings. If open questions posed to the team are met with awkward silence, team members seem distracted and aren’t actively engaged in the topic at hand, deadlines and deliverables are slipping, or the general mood at both your audio-only and video meetings is listless and uninspired, then you definitely have an engagement issue. You can easily solve this issue with the collaboration tools you already have in place and with great leadership.
Fire up the virtual water cooler, encourage nonwork chatter via IM and the use of social media tools, launch daily online polls to check in on project status and general mood, and refocus everyone on their roles and responsibilities.
- Team members feel disconnected. A feeling of disconnection can evolve when engagement levels plummet and stay there, which can lead to a complete lack of rapport among team members where everyone is working in their own virtual silos. Because trust has never been built, if problems or conflict arise, the mood is generally defensive and all team members seem intent on positioning themselves in the best light and protecting their turf.
Getting team members together in person as frequently as possible is a way to break down silos that have formed. Team members are more likely to reach out, follow through on assigned tasks and deadlines, ask questions, and invite solutions when they care about the people they work with and know they’re counting on them to get the work done. Helping your team members get to know each other on a personal level is an important part of building a sense of team.
- Team members don’t work on solutions together. Collaborative technology exists to create efficiencies and improve communications on teams. If you have taken the time to schedule a meeting, then you likely are seeking collaboration and input with team members, where solutions are brainstormed and decisions are made with inclusion from all.
Use your collaborative tools to document the items that need to be reported but not necessarily discussed. Use your meetings to create an open dialog. If your meetings aren’t hotbeds of discussion and spirited exchange of ideas, you can change that. Create an agenda and distribute it to all attendees in advance of the meeting. Assign topics and team members will come prepared to share ideas and work on solutions.
- How decisions are made on the team is unclear. If team members aren’t certain how decisions are made on your team, more than likely the team leader is failing to adhere to the team agreements and workflow process. Having in place and enforcing team agreements and workflow processes are critical success factors for virtual teams. Agree on and stick to a road map that you design together for how things get done on your team. Make it part of your team culture.
Collaborative technology comes into play for outlining deliverables, responsibilities, handoffs, and more. Be sure that team members make it a habit of doing business to include time tracking, assigning, and completing of tasks, contingencies, and approvals — all things that keep a virtual team humming along. Great workflow processes keep everyone on the same page, reduce confusion, eliminate bottlenecks, and create efficiency.